A few years ago, on a winter afternoon, I ventured into the 1 train’s new South Ferry terminal for a pre-opening media tour. This station — part of the post-9/11 Lower Manhattan recovery effort — was to be a crown jewel for the subway system. It connected the 1 with the R, allowed Transit to run 24 trains per hour on the West Side IRT and brought a climate-controlled ADA-compliant station to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.
Superstorm Sandy, apparently, had other plans in mind. The storm surge from Sandy overwhelmed the barriers placed in front of the station, and the 1 train’s section of South Ferry flooded up to the mezzanine level. We’ve seen the dramatic photos and the videos from the days following the storm, and we know that the 1 train is terminated at Rector St. and using the decommissioned South Ferry loop station to turn around. We don’t know how long this makeshift set-up will last, but based upon what I saw today on another media tour, it’s going to be a long time.
Led by Wynton Habersham, a 30-year vet of the MTA, I saw a station in ruins. Tiles have fallen from the ceiling and walls, debris is everywhere and the electronics — the hidden aspect of the station — are completely wrecked. “It’s like throwing a computer into seawater,” Habersham said of the rampant destruction. The station filled up with 80 feet of water, and crews eventually pumped out 14.5 million gallons of damaging brackish saltwater.
While the station looks bad, the cosmetic impact is nothing compared to the destruction to key signal systems and train control infrastructure. All of the equipment inside the signal relay room will have to be replaced, and in fact, the entire signal system south of Rector St. will likely have to be completely overhauled as well. Vital infrastructure — the very systems that keep trains from colliding with each other and on the right tracks — is useless, corroded from saltwater exposure.
The bad news for many Lower Manhattan residents, commuters and Staten Island ferry riders concerns the timing. Habersham estimated that it would take a least a year to replace all of the electronic equipment that was destroyed by the storm. That’s 14,000 daily riders looking for an alternate route for a rather lengthy amount of time. Beyond that vague estimate, the MTA will have to assess if the best solution is simply to gut the station and rebuild it. It’s unclear how much saltwater seeped in behind the walls and how quickly it will corrode the structure. I had never been seen rust on a subway staircase, and the rails were covered in it as well.
So if all goes according to plan, perhaps we’ll see South Ferry reactivated in 2014. But the MTA has to decide how to repair the station and what hardening takes place. As it stands now, it is a monument to the destructive powers of nature and saltwater. A photo slideshow follows after the jump.